Oral History Projects

Many of you likely already know about StoryCorps, and may have heard their segments on NPR’s Morning Edition. Those who haven’t are missing out.

StoryCorps travels across the country and records oral histories or conversations between friends and family members. Its goal is to encourage listening and to create robust archives of the experiences of everyday Americans. While geared toward a popular rather than an academic audience, the project addresses particular themes (notably, the archives around Hurricane Katrina), concerns that are undoubtedly useful to scholars interested in people’s experiences of major historical events on the ground. Their specialized collections could easily serve as source data for secondary analysis, and if nothing else, offer an incredibly interesting listen.

Studs Terkel

Perhaps many more of you are familiar with the work of the great Chicagoan, Studs Terkel.

During the course of his 50-year publishing history, Terkel collected interviews with folks from all walks of life, often interviewing the same individual or family multiple times over the decades. His topics ranged from people’s experiences of the Great Depression, race in the U.S., life in Chicago, the meanings and experiences of work, and people’s relation to death and dying.

The Chicago History Museum provides an archive of his interviews online, providing free access to the source material that helped him write some of the most interesting and influential oral histories produced in the U.S.

Voices of the Holocaust 
Fewer people are probably aware of another Chicago oral historian, David P. Boder.In 1946, the Chicago-based psychologist traveled to Europe with a new media research tool: a wire spool recorder. The device allowed Boder to move through Europe and record interviews with survivors of the Holocaust before anyone even had a name for the tragedy. Boder spent much of the rest of his life struggling to transcribe and publish his 90 hours of interviews in 9 different languages.

After rediscovering the recordings nearly a decade ago, the Illinois Institute of Technology (where Boder worked and taught for many years) completed the work of transciption and created Voices of the Holocaust, an innovative interactive website featuring the recordings, their translated transcriptions, and a wealth of supporting information.


Author: Jessica Speer

As the Research Specialist at SSRC, Jessica edits re/search, consults with faculty, and conducts SSRC research projects. She is interested in questions of information management, preservation, communication, and dissemination.

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